The Portland Trail Blazers are 77 games into the season and have clinched a playoff spot and are on the verge of clinching home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The team that now sits at 48-29 has come a long way from when they were 22-21 just over halfway through the season.
This is the time of year that more people are scoreboard watching around the league than any other point in the season. Every single game can make a big difference in seeding in the playoffs. The #4-#9 seeded teams in the Western Conference are only separated by 3 games.
The Western Conference has been incredibly competitive all season but could hit a crescendo over the last week and a half of the regular season. Each team is jockeying for playoff positioning and trying to matchup with an ideal team in the first round.
The teams currently ranked 4-8 are the Spurs, Thunder, Jazz, Timberwolves, and Pelicans. That is an incredibly stacked group of teams!
Who would the Blazers match up best with in the first round?
1 – Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite the big offseason acquisitions of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, the Blazers have dominated the Thunder this season. The Blazers won all 4 matchups this season by a total of 26 points. One of those games was without Damian Lillard. With all of the hype surrounding Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, it sure would be fun to watch the Blazers beat up on them in the first round.
2 – New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis is a legit top-5 player in this league. The Blazers and Pelicans split their season series, 2-2. The difference in this series is that the Pelicans are a collection of pieces surrounding Anthony Davis, the Blazers are a cohesive team. If Boogie Cousins was healthy we may view this differently, but this would be a good matchup for the Blazers.
3 – Minnesota Timberwolves. Everyone had the Timberwolves as a top 4 team in the west before the season started. With a couple weeks left in the season they are barely hanging onto a playoff spot. With the impending return of Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves could be a dangerous team in the postseason. While this is a good and talented team now, give them another season to gel as a team and improve, and they could be really scary.
4 – Utah Jazz. Not many teams in the league are as hot as the Jazz for the couple months. The Jazz found themselves at 19-28 towards the end of January. They then won 21 out of 23 games to vault themselves into the playoff conversation. This is a dominant defensive team, with the 2nd best defensive rating. This team, led by Rudy Gobert and Donavan Mitchell, would be a tough matchup for the Blazers in the first round.
5 – San Antonio Spurs. The storylines in this matchup would be incredible. LaMarcus Aldridge returning to the city that he started his career in. The ever evolving mystery of whether Kawhi Leonard will come back this season. Manu Ginobli and Pau Gasol playing old man ball. It would be a great series. But the Spurs have a weapon that the Blazers can’t match, Gregg Popovich. Popovich has led his team to the playoffs the past 20 seasons. In those 20 playoff appearances, his team has only been bounced in the first round 4 times. In other words, Popovich has an 80% win percentage in the first round for the last two decades!